Subscribe to SIAWI content updates by Email
Home > Uncategorised > Israel and Poland clash over proposed Holocaust law - Israeli Survivors (...)

Israel and Poland clash over proposed Holocaust law - Israeli Survivors Respond to Polish Legislation: ’No Law Can Wipe Out the Memory of the Holocaust for Us’

Tuesday 30 January 2018, by siawi3

Source: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-poland/israel-and-poland-clash-over-proposed-holocaust-law-idUSKBN1FH0S3

January 28, 2018 / 5:55 PM / Updated 4 hours ago

Israel and Poland clash over proposed Holocaust law

Jeffrey Heller, Marcin Goettig

JERUSALEM/WARSAW (Reuters) - Israel’s prime minister and Holocaust survivors on Sunday bridled at a draft Polish law that would make it illegal to suggest Poland bore any responsibility for Nazi atrocities committed on its soil.

Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem January 28, 2018. REUTERS/Tsafrir Abayov/Pool

The Israeli foreign ministry summoned Poland’s charge d‘affaires - the ambassador was abroad – to object to the bill, which is still going through parliament.

“We will under no circumstances accept any attempt to rewrite history,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in lengthy public remarks to his cabinet.

Netanyahu and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki talked by phone late on Sunday, the Israeli leader’s office said, and they “had agreed to open immediate dialogue between teams from both countries to try to reach understandings on the legislation.”

Before World War Two, Poland was home to Europe’s largest Jewish community of some 3.2 million. Nazi Germany attacked and occupied Poland in 1939 and later built death camps including Auschwitz and Treblinka on Polish soil. Most of the Jews that lived in Poland were killed by the Nazi occupiers.

The Polish government said in a statement the legislation aimed to stop the Polish people or state being blamed for Nazi crimes.

The bill, passed by the lower house of parliament on Friday, would make the use of phrases such as “Polish death camps” punishable by up to three years in prison.

To become law, the bill, which could yet be amended, must be approved by the Senate and Polish President Andrzej Duda.

“We will accept no limitation on truthful historical research,” Netanyahu earlier told his cabinet.

“Our ambassador in Warsaw, at my instruction, spoke with the prime minister of Poland during last night’s ceremony commemorating the Holocaust at Auschwitz, and emphasized these positions of ours,” he said, referring to a service to mark the 73rd anniversary of the death camp’s liberation.

Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd R) sits next to Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman (R), Israeli Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (2nd L) and Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev (L) during the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem January 28, 2018. REUTERS/Tsafrir Abayov/Pool

Warsaw says the bill will not limit freedom to research or speak about the Holocaust.

“Jews, Poles, and all victims should be guardians of the memory of all who were murdered by German Nazis. Auschwitz-Birkenau is not a Polish name, and ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ is not a Polish phrase,” Morawiecki said on Twitter on Saturday.

The German phrase, which translates as “work sets you free”, was set into the wrought iron gates at Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps.

The Polish Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) said that Poland had been in the past many times presented as an ally of Hitler, which made it necessary to protect its reputation.

Poland lost about 3 million of its non-Jewish citizens, including many of its intellectuals and members of the elites during World War Two. The capital Warsaw was razed to the ground in 1944 after a failed uprising in which 200,000 civilians died.

BILL BANS “POLISH DEATH CAMPS” REFERENCE

Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust remembrance center, said the phrase “Polish death camps” would be a historical misrepresentation but that the bill was “liable to blur the historical truths regarding the assistance the Germans received from the Polish population”.

At Israel’s request, Duda’s top policy adviser will meet Israel’s ambassador on Monday to discuss the legislation.

Holocaust survivors interviewed in Israel’s best-selling daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, gave first-hand accounts of how Poles refused them help or turned them over to German authorities.

“There were good Polish people ... but there were also Poles who were very cruel,” Esther Lieber, 81, told the newspaper. “When they came to round us up and put us in the ghetto, father said to run away quickly. We were very scared and fled into the woods. The Poles threw stones at us and cursed us.”

Yad Vashem says about 30,000 to 35,000 Jews, around one percent of all of Polish Jewry, were saved with the help of Poles. More than 6,700 Poles, the largest number of rescuers from a single country, have been honored by Yad Vashem as “Righteous Among the Nations”.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Jon Boyle

°°°

Source: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-holocaust-survivors-express-outrage-at-proposed-new-polish-law-1.5769419

Israeli Survivors Respond to Polish Legislation: ’No Law Can Wipe Out the Memory of the Holocaust for Us’

Judy Maltz

Jan 29, 2018 2:27 AM

Israeli Holocaust survivors from Poland expressed outrage on Sunday over the passage of Polish legislation that seeks to outlaw any mention of the country’s complicity in atrocities perpetrated by Nazi Germany against the Jews.

The controversial bill, which would also criminalize use of the term “Polish death camps,” was passed by the lower house of the Polish parliament on Friday, but still requires approval by the upper house and also the president’s assent.

Zvi Gil, who survived the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps and the Lodz ghetto, views the legislation with “great severity,” saying it was proof that the Poles had committed crimes against the Jews. “If they hadn’t, there wouldn’t have been a need for a law like this,” charged Gil, one of the founders of Israeli television.

Although the Poles were also persecuted by the Nazis, he said, “There were many who took advantage of the Nazi occupation – not only to express hatred toward the Jews, but also to commit acts of vandalism against them.”

Gil recalled that, as a teenager in the Lodz ghetto, he would often observe Poles crossing the bridge that connected its two parts. “Some of them would look the other way,” he recounted, “but others would smile when they saw our suffering.”

He said the Israeli government should respond to the legislation by banning all school trips to Auschwitz and other death camps. (Over the past 30 years, such trips have become a rite of passage for high school students in Israel.)

Israeli Holocaust survivors from Poland expressed outrage on Sunday over the passage of Polish legislation that seeks to outlaw any mention of the country’s complicity in atrocities perpetrated by Nazi Germany against the Jews.

The controversial bill, which would also criminalize use of the term “Polish death camps,” was passed by the lower house of the Polish parliament on Friday, but still requires approval by the upper house and also the president’s assent.

Zvi Gil, who survived the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps and the Lodz ghetto, views the legislation with “great severity,” saying it was proof that the Poles had committed crimes against the Jews. “If they hadn’t, there wouldn’t have been a need for a law like this,” charged Gil, one of the founders of Israeli television.

Although the Poles were also persecuted by the Nazis, he said, “There were many who took advantage of the Nazi occupation – not only to express hatred toward the Jews, but also to commit acts of vandalism against them.”

Gil recalled that, as a teenager in the Lodz ghetto, he would often observe Poles crossing the bridge that connected its two parts. “Some of them would look the other way,” he recounted, “but others would smile when they saw our suffering.”

He said the Israeli government should respond to the legislation by banning all school trips to Auschwitz and other death camps. (Over the past 30 years, such trips have become a rite of passage for high school students in Israel.)

Rena Quint, a survivor from Piotrkow whose mother and two brothers were murdered in Treblinka, said she believed the attempt to whitewash Poland’s past through legislation was destined to fail. “It is true the death camps were set up by the Germans,” she said, “but Poland did nothing to try to get them out of there.”

Quint, who recently published a book about her experiences during the Holocaust, called “A Daughter of Many Mothers: Her Horrific Childhood and Wonderful Life,” spent several years in a forced labor camp before ending up in Bergen-Belsen. She said her failed postwar attempts to reclaim property owned by her family in Poland have strengthened her conviction that most Poles were happy to be rid of their Jewish neighbors.

Shimon Redlich, a retired history professor from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Be’er Sheva, has both lived through the Holocaust and studied the Holocaust as an academic. Born in the Eastern Galician town of Brzezany, he was able to survive the war by hiding in the home of a Ukrainian woman.

Photo: Retired history professor Shimon Redlich. "In Poland, you have a nationalistic, right-wing government in power that is trying to pander to certain groups."ìéîåø àãøé

“I strongly condemn the current Polish government for initiating this legislation,” he said. “It is particularly of concern for people like me who study and write about Polish history and could soon find themselves under threat of legal action.”

At the same time, Redlich urged Israelis to refrain from overreacting. “It’s important to remember that governments come and go, and that in the past there have been far more liberal governments in Poland. There is no reason, therefore, to boycott all the Polish people because of something like this.”

The Israeli government, he charged, was guilty of similar attempts to “manipulate” the Holocaust. “In Poland, you have a nationalistic, right-wing government in power that is trying to pander to certain groups,” Redlich observed. “We have something pretty similar going on here in Israel. Bibi [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] often uses the Holocaust when he preaches to his detractors.”

Shmuel Atzmon, a well-known Yiddish theater actor, said the proposed legislation was actually a far greater threat to the Polish people than to the Jewish people. “There is no law that can wipe out the memory of the Holocaust for us. But by trying to erase from the record what bad Poles did back then, the government is committing an injustice to good Poles today,” he warned. “It is not educational and they are simply hurting themselves.”

Atzmon has played an active role over the years in promoting cultural ties between Israel and Poland. “Ten of the best years of my life were spent in Poland before the war broke out,” he said, “and it is important to me that good relations between our two countries prevail.”

Photo: Actor Shmuel Atzmon at the Venice Film Festival in September 2017. "There is no law that can wipe out the memory of the Holocaust for us."TIZIANA FABI/AFP

Born in 1939, six months before Germany attacked Poland, Jehoshua Pomeranz was the youngest Jewish survivor from the city of Radom. After his father was murdered in Auschwitz, his mother paid a Polish family to hide her and her baby boy.

“From what I heard, my mother had to promise them she would not tell anyone that they saved Jews, because they were afraid of repercussions from the neighbors,” he recalled. “This was proof to me that such acts of kindness – and in this case they were even doing it for money – were not the norm.”

After the war, Pomeranz continued, his mother set up a business in Radom, but was warned she would face death if she didn’t leave town. “I think you can understand why I don’t have fond memories of the Poles,” he said.

He believes the controversial legislation being advanced in Poland “is an attempt to cover up their complicity in the murder of the Jews.”

“Poland was always a very anti-Semitic place,” he said. “It had a lot of Jews – they were tolerated but not loved. The Poles took the opportunity of the German invasion to assist in finally getting rid of the Jews,” he added.

But Eli Kindler, who was saved by a Polish woman in the town of Sokal (now part of Ukraine), offers a more sympathetic response. “People tend to forget that, unlike in other countries, in Poland there was no national government that collaborated with the Nazis,” he said. “Rather, the Germans set up their own government there. So it’s not really fair to say the Poles were guilty for what happened to the Jews.”

When the Germans occupied towns in Poland, Kindler noted, one of the first things they did was round up the intellectuals and kill them. “And that’s exactly what they did with the Jews,” he said, “so in a way we were all in the same boat.”

°°°

Source: http://www.latimes.com/world/la-fg-israel-poland-nazis-20180128-story.html

Israel pushes back against Polish proposal that rejects culpability for Holocaust

By Noga Tarnopolsky

Jan 28, 2018 | 5:10 PM

Jerusalem
Israel pushes back against Polish proposal that rejects culpability for Holocaust

Photo: Participants carry German, Israeli and Polish flags as they take part in the March of the Living in 2012 to commemorate victims of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps in Oswiecim, Poland. (Bartek Wrzesniowski / AFP/Getty Images)

There are probably many ways Poland’s chargé d’affaires to Israel imagined enjoying his Sunday morning in Tel Aviv.

Instead, Piotr Kozlowski spent a blustery Sunday — the first day of Israel’s workweek — in Jerusalem, on the receiving end of an angry reprimand from the Israeli government.

A bill passed by the lower house of Poland’s parliament Friday that would make it illegal to utter the phrase "Polish concentration camp" or to assign Poland culpability for Nazi crimes committed on its soil has infuriated the Israeli government.

The bill requires the approval of the Senate and the nation’s president before becoming law.

It was endorsed by the lower house Jan. 26, the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which falls on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration camp in Poland. Approximately 1 million people were killed there between 1940 and 1945, the vast majority of them Jews.

Poland, the first country to fall to Nazi troops in World War II, has long been sensitive about the crimes carried out by Germany on its soil — in many cases with the complicity of Poles, who were both victims of and, in some cases, collaborators with the Nazis.

In Israel, where tens of thousands of elderly Holocaust survivors are a permanent reminder of the European genocide, the passage of the bill caused an uproar.

"The law’s intent is by no means to whitewash history, but to safeguard it and the truth about the Holocaust, as well as to prevent its distortion," Kozlowski said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the "baseless" law and instructed Israel’s ambassador in Warsaw to transmit his condemnation to the Polish prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki.

In a phone call late Sunday, the two leaders agreed to open an "immediate dialogue" to come to an understanding about the bill, which Morawiecki supports. The law establishes prison terms of up to three years for any mention of "Polish extermination camps."

Gil Paran, the chairman of a group of Israeli guides of Holocaust tours to Poland, published a letter inquiring "if, as I guide, I mention the part played by Polish people in Holocaust crimes, does this break the law?"

Quoting a former Polish president, Aleksander Kwaśniewski, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said: "One cannot fake history; one cannot rewrite it; one cannot hide the truth. Every crime, every offense must be condemned, denounced — must be examined and exposed.

"Only 73 years have passed since the gates of hell were flung open," Rivlin continued. "Living Holocaust survivors are disappearing from the world, and we still have to fight for the memory of the Holocaust as it was."

The crisis has made public a fundamental difference between two countries for whom the Holocaust is intimate and personal.

On Twitter, Morawiecki posted that "Jews, Poles, and all victims should be guardians of the memory of all who were murdered by German Nazis. Auschwitz-Birkenau is not a Polish name, and Arbeit Macht Frei" — the infamous slogan above the Auschwitz gate, meaning "work sets you free" — "is not a Polish phrase."

Holocaust Remembrance Day was marred by a remarkable exchange between the Polish Embassy in Tel Aviv and Yair Lapid, the leader of an Israeli centrist opposition party and the Israeli-born son of a Holocaust survivor.

"I utterly condemn the new Polish law which tries to deny Polish complicity in the Holocaust," Lapid tweeted. "It was conceived in Germany but hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered without ever meeting a German soldier. There were Polish death camps and no law can ever change that."

The Polish Embassy replied, "Your unsupportable claims show how badly Holocaust education is needed, even here in Israel," adding that Lapid was "shameless."

Lapid, whose name, adopted by his father after the Holocaust, means flame, replied: "My grandmother was murdered in Poland by Germans and Poles. I don’t need Holocaust education from you. We live with the consequences every day in our collective memory. Your embassy should offer an immediate apology."

As the Twitter feud escalated, Polish feeds adopted the hashtag #GermanDeathCamps to transmit the long-held Polish belief that Poland, invaded by Nazi Germany, bears no responsibility for the Nazi massacres that took place on its territory.

This is not the first time Poland’s resentment has affected diplomatic ties. In 2012, President Obama was forced to apologize for mentioning "Polish death camps" when awarding the late Polish resistance hero Jan Karski a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In a tweet posted Sunday, Morawiecki resorted to a metaphor to transmit the Polish view of history: "A gang of professional thugs enters a two-family house. They kill the first family almost entirely. They kill the parents of the second, torturing the kids. They loot and raze the house. Could one, in good conscience, say that the second family is guilty for the murder of the first?"

"What this new law is trying to cover up," Havi Dreifuss, a Tel Aviv University expert on Polish-Jewish relations during the Holocaust, told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, is that "during the Holocaust, in quite a few small communities in the Lomza district of Poland, the locals murdered their Jewish neighbors. And Kielce," a city in which 42 Jewish refugees were killed by their Polish neighbors immediately after World War II, "was not the only place where Jews — some of them sole survivors of their families — were murdered by Poles after the war ended."

Tarnopolsky is a special correspondent.

°°°

Source: https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-5077518,00.html

Polish death camp bill divides Holocaust survivors

New bill to outlawing reference to ’Polish death camps’ scolded by Holocaust survivors who see attempt to ’erase history’ and insist Poles ’were complicit in Nazi atrocities’; others say bill doesn’t matter.

Ynet and Yedioth Ahronoth writers

Published: 01.28.18 , 23:26

The new Polish legislation that prescribes prison time for defaming the Polish nation by using phrases such as "Polish death camps" to refer to the killing sites Nazi Germany operated in occupied Poland during World War II, has sparked a dispute among Holocaust survivors.

Forced to confront one against their shared past, the legislation has created a division among the survivors.

One the one hand, some have expressed understanding for the Polish move and emphasized that clear distinctions have to be drawn between the conduct of Polish citizenry and the Nazis.

Auschwitz death camp (Photo: AP)

Others stress that the vast majority of Poles “turned a blind eye” to the horrors that befell European Jewry on their soil, insisting that the majority were complicit with Nazi Germany’s extermination program.

“During the war Poland was an occupied country, and there was a government in exile in London, and it obviously didn’t encourage the murder of Jews or collaborate with the Nazis,” said Holocaust survivor Lilly Haber, who today serves as the chairwoman of the Forum of Polish Immigrants and Members of The Presidium of the International Auschwitz Committee (IAC).

“But there is culpability for the Poles themselves as individuals and I’m not talking about one or two, but a large percentage of the population. This is something the Poles should have faced long after the war, and not just gloried, honored, and praised the 6,500 Righteous Among the Nations,” she added.

“What about the tens of millions who stood on the side or actively assisted in the killings? They acted to achieve the result for the Germans which they wanted—the destruction of the Jews. They assisted in the Final Solution and that can’t be denied,” Haber concluded.

Moreover, Haber noted that the Poles were not mere accomplices to the Nazis’ liquidation of Jews and their atrocities, but also initiated murderous acts without prompting from Berlin.

“When they’re glorifying the rescue of Jews, they have forgotten, for example, that the Kielce Pogrom was one year later,” she said in reference to the 1946 pogrom in the Polish city which claimed the lives of dozens of Jewish refugees.

“A few months ago the Polish minister of culture said it was hooligans who did it. Who are these hooligans? Creatures from outer space? They were Polish citizens,” Haber stressed.

“And these are Polish citizens of one kind, the Catholics, who massacred Polish citizens. And when they talk about Poles who were murdered because they helped in hiding Jews—in most cases the Gestapo knew how to get to them because of Polish denunciation.”

The Poles, she added, should have learned from the Germans and taken responsibility.

“Seventy-three years after the war, we were sure we wouldn’t have to deal with what happened in the Holocaust other than what we learned from it, but it turns out we were wrong. It turns out that the Polish government still needs to teach history.”

Similarly, another Holocaust survivor, Yehudah Maimon, opined that the law was inappropriate. “I don’t blame the Polish nation. Not all Poles are to blame, but if the Polish government seriously wants to cleanse itself, it needs to introduce legislation against those who collaborated with the Germans. There were Poles who killed Jews at ‘the festive occasion’ when the Germans killed,” he said.

On the other side of the aisle are Polish Holocaust survivors such as Shraga Milstein, who was six years old when the Second World War broke out.

Taken with his family a ghetto and later to the Buchenwald concentration camp and Bergen-Belsen, today he believes that it is not Israel’s place to interfere or weigh in on such issues.

“What does it matter what the Poles legislate? They were also under occupation and it bothers them that no distinction is drawn between them and the German Nazis who were there,” Milstein pointed out.

“We are now 73 years after the end of the war and the liberation of the camps, our relations as Jews and the State of Israel with Poland are good today as they are with Germany. That says something. We as a state need to deal with the Poles of today as we do with the Germans of today, and not to attribute the crimes of forefathers to the third and fourth generations.”

For Tommy Shaham, whose family was almost entirely wiped out in the Holocaust, the Polish law is laughable. “In Poland they were collaborators and even today there’s anti-Semitism,” he insists.

Shama passed through Auschwitz death camp and was liberated in Poland 73 years ago. According to him, the Poles were responsible for some of the atrocities that took place there and often demonstrated more zeal than the Germans in inflicting suffering on their Jewish victims.

“The capo at Auschwitz was a Polish woman and she was more cruel than the Germans. She did more than what she needed to do,” he recalled.

The aim of the Polish Law, Tommy argued, is to “erase history. But we remember it well. We have evidence and there is no court that will be able to erase the history. The map, Auschwitz is on Polish, not German, soil.”

While Shaham pointed out that “there were anti-Semitic Poles just like in every other country,” he said it was also “important to remember that the Germans were the ones who did it. There were anti-Semites in Poland, but they weren’t worse than the Nazis. The Germans were the ones who at the end of the day gave the orders.

Amir Alon, Itamar Eichner, Alexandra Lukash, Nir Cohen, Yale Friedson, Telem Yahav, Israel Moskowitz and Eitan Glickman contributed to this report.

°°°

Source: https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/editorial/memory-cannot-be-legislated-1.5769539

Memory Cannot Be Legislated

The Polish government erred and will have to tone down or scrap the bill altogether. Israel’s government would be wise to practice what it preaches

Haaretz Editorial

Jan 29, 2018 3:02 AM

Amid the storm that erupted this past weekend over the approval by the lower house of the Polish parliament of a bill that would cripple the important historical debate over the role of Poles in the Holocaust, an equally important remark by Poland’s deputy justice minister during the discussion in the parliament was overlooked. “This is exactly what Israel did so effectively,” Patryk Jaki said. “I don’t understand why Poland can’t have the same effective tools that Israel has.”

Jaki was implying that the restrictions Poland’s government seeks to place on what it views as “distortions of history,” “smears” and “fake news” regarding the stains of its Holocaust-era past are no different from the restrictions Israel’s government places on discussion of unpleasant chapters in its own past. Though he didn’t say so explicitly, it’s clear the Polish deputy minister was referring to laws like the so-called Nakba Law, which allows the government to revoke government funding for any organization that commemorates the Palestinians’ suffering in 1948.

Even though there’s no comparison between these two historical events, governments, whether Polish or Israeli, would do better to refrain from interfering in historical debates, no matter how difficult, complex and sensitive they are. Just as governments in democratic states don’t pass laws about scientific facts, it’s not their job to shape historical memory through legislation. Governments are supposed to shape the present and the future. They are entitled to shape historical memory only through positive means, for example by marking holidays, organizing events and issuing statements.

Historical debates are by nature open to different and competing interpretations that are shaped by civil society, and that is where they belong. A democratic state is supposed to do everything in its power to protect freedom of expression and of research and to stop anyone who seeks to gag others, to intimidate people with contrary views or to tilt the debate in a particular direction for political or other reasons.

Just as it’s wrong for Poland to threaten criminal sanctions that will stunt the historical, media and public debate over Poles’ role in persecuting Jews during the Holocaust, it’s wrong for Israel to threaten sanctions against people for whom Israel’s Independence Day is not a holiday. This debate should be left to those who have the tools to participate in it — above all historians and researchers from other academic fields, but also ordinary people who were actually there.

The Polish government erred in failing to anticipate how strongly Israel would oppose the new law, and it will now have to either tone it down or scrap it altogether. Israel’s government, which is rightly demanding that its Polish counterpart do exactly that, would be wise to practice what it preaches.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.